By raising the bar in the first year of some degree programmes, VHL hopes to lower the dropout rate in subsequent years. What do students think of this strategy?
First year Fair Trade Management, VHL Wageningen
'The first year is tough enough already, if you ask me. In each period we get a big project, and it is not always clear what the end product is supposed to be. I would prefer clear learning goals to a tougher first year. The information you get about VHL is not bad, although you can see a difference between the info you get from students and what you get from teachers. Teachers really give a sales talk, whereas students tell you about the down sides of the programme too.'
First year Food Innovation, VHL Wageningen; from Indonesia
'For me a tougher first year is just a trigger to work harder. My programme is not easy now, but it could be a bit tougher. I would almost say, the tougher the better. In general I think that Dutch and German students drop out more readily than students from further afield. It is much easier for them to get here, whereas for me even just obtaining a visa is an incredible amount of work. I had to go to a lot of trouble to get here, so you only go through all that if you really want it. I certainly won't drop out without good reason.'
Dropped out after one year on the Animal Management programme, VHL Leeuwarden
'Even tougher? Ha-ha, I thought the first year was quite tough enough. I studied Animal Management and stopped in the summer after my first year. The reason I stopped was that I wasn't interested enough in many of the courses, so I wasn't motivated to pass them. If VHL makes the first year tougher I think people will be put off who might otherwise really have enjoyed the programme. For me personally, it wouldn't have helped if the first year had been made tougher. I wouldn't have dropped out any earlier; I would have finished the first year anyway, to make sure I was making the right choice.'
Aart van der Velde
Forest and Nature Management (did not finish), VHL Velp
'I think it's a very good idea to make the first year tougher. It might have been helpful for me. At the time I had about 40 ECT points and managed to scrape through into the second year. At home I was pushed to carry on and I fell through the net rather at VHL. I didn't have a mentor and no one asked me the critical question as to whether Forest and Nature Management was the right thing for me.After six years I left last year without a degree. In retrospect, I wish I'd stopped earlier. I should have done a more practical MBO course. I can think alright, but I am happier working with my hands.Now I have started my own paving company. Last winter I paved a campsite in Zeeland. I really like that sort of thing.'
First year, Garden and Landscape Design, VHL Velp
'I think it is good that our first year has already been made tougher. I have to work very hard for them, but I am still getting all my points. My classmates are doing fine too. In my class, two or three out of 30 have dropped out, and a few more haven't got all the points they need. Was the information provided accurate? They might have given more explanation of the contents of the programme, but I think you can never have a precise idea of what a degree course is all about beforehand.'
Second year, Garden and Landscape Design, VHL Velp; from France
'I thought I had to do an awful lot in my first year. It was terribly busy towards the end of the year, especially. More than half my class dropped out and people are still dropping out now. I am in favour of the idea of a tough start. Our whole programme is tough, so you might as well be prepared for that from the start. I found this programme when I was in France and I learned Dutch in order to study here. The information provided could have been better. I had no idea beforehand, for example, which subjects I would be studying here.'
Maarten ter Haar
Ninth year, Animal and Livestock Science, VHL Leeuwarden
'Making the first year harder seems to me a bad approach to stopping people from taking too long over their degrees. The fact that I have taken a long time is not down to how tough the first year was. During the first three or four years as a student I was working a lot, so I was spending less time on my studies. And I also spent a long time recuperating from a car accident, which meant putting my studies on the back burner. And then, over the years I have put a lot of time into my student society.'
Second year, Land and Water Management, VHL Velp
'In the first year I was in a project group with fellow students who were not motivated. That caused me to fail my first year. It may be that I happened to be working with the most extreme cases, but I would prefer such slackers to be grouped together. You could identify them by looking at the absentee rates at compulsory lectures. It could help if more women students were attracted to the programme. Women often see things differently than men, and that usually makes for a valuable contribution to a project.'
Dropped out in the first year of Animal Management, VHL Leeuwarden
'In June of my first year I had to drop out of Animal Management because I had not passed a compulsory exam. I got a 5.4 in the resit, so I narrowly failed that too. Then I was told that I would have to stop because I had had enough chances. It is extra frustrating for me that I didn't get one more chance to take that exam, because I was really motivated and I liked the programme very much. I then started on the Coast and Sea programme but it didn't live up to my expectations so I dropped out of that too. Now I am working. I would not have stopped any earlier if the first year had been tougher, since I liked it so much.'